The best penalty kill in the Atlantic Hockey Conference was on display once again in Air Force’s series-opening 2-0 win over Mercyhurst on Friday at Cadet Ice Arena, and an aggressive approach might be behind the stingy special teams unit.
The Falcon (9-6-0, 9-4-0) penalty kill, which entered with an 87.9 success rate - good for fourth in the nation, fought off three more penalties Friday. Air Force opponents have now failed to score on their last 25 power plays.
“Unlike a lot of teams in the Atlantic League, we like to be very aggressive on our penalty kill,” sophomore defenseman Zack Mirageas said. “A lot of teams sit back and wait and try and block shots and put sticks in lanes, but we take it to them.”
After a scoreless and relatively uneventful first period, Air Force wasted little time taking advantage of the game’s first power play early in the second.
Senior center Kyle Haak buried a rebound 33 seconds into the power play to give the Falcons the lead. Matt Koch and Evan Feno registered assists, as Haak filled Evan Giesler’s vacated spot in front of goal and converted from close range 1:42 into the period.
“I filled in his spot, he took my spot, and yeah, double-layered traffic, and just kind of came on the stick at the right time,” Haak said after scoring his first game-winner of the season.
Some six minutes later, Trevor Stone made it a two-goal game with his fourth score of the season by beating Garrett Metcalf on a breakaway with a shot over the Laker goalie’s stick. Giesler and Alex Mehnert picked up assists, setting up the one-on-one.
The Falcon penalty kill did its job later in the second period and twice more in the third. Senior goaltender Billy Christopoulos made 18 saves in his second-consecutive shutout.
“We won the special teams game and we won the goaltending game. When you win the special teams game and the goaltending matchup, generally you win the game,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said.
“Your best penalty kill is your goalie, and Billy’s been on his game.”
The AHC-leading Falcons will look for a second straight series sweep on Saturday.